Boof! Where Are My Glasses? Wreckless Eric’s Adventures in The Medway Towns

In an exclusive extract from his memoir A Dysfunctional Success: The Wreckless Eric Manual, Eric Goulden looks back ruefully on an encounter with the police in Chatham

I think perhaps the only way to write an honest autobiography is to go about it with the idea firmly in mind that no one’s ever going to read it. I certainly wouldn’t have written the extract that follows if I’d thought it was going to be made public. I’m a recovering alcoholic – I’ve been sober now for almost thirty-nine years – and in that time I’ve had to come to terms with incidents from my life as a drunk that have caused me profound shame. I’m not a fan of the war stories that so many recovering addicts and alcoholics tell – to me it smacks of glorification, and I don’t think there’s any glory in it. Some of what happened was funny, most of it was pathetic, and I’d describe this particular episode as ‘dark slapstick’ at best.

Johnny is Johnny Green, road manager to the Clash from 1976 until their deterioration in the early 80s. We found ourselves living in the Medway Towns in Kent, me in Chatham and Johnny in neighbouring Gillingham. Johnny became my manager and we set about a delusional campaign for world domination from a corner table by the payphone in a local cafe called Andy Snacks. The Smarmy Thug was a burly London gangster brought in by the brewery to bring one of its rougher pubs into line.

I was given a conditional discharge and a ten pound fine. Johnny was let off less lightly but didn’t receive a prison sentence. He stopped being my manager and went to teacher training college. When I see him he still apologises for the Morris Marina.

The exact steps that led to a lock-in – Johnny on pints of Special Brew with whisky chasers and me on pints of best bitter topped up with a double gin – elude me. Eventually we had to leave. The smarmy thug had made his money out of us and was intent on fleecing some local builders in a game of poker. We were almost falling asleep on the bar.

The cold air woke me up a bit. It was an icy night and I remember Johnny saying we should drive home. I wanted to say that we couldn’t possibly do that in our condition. I came to in the passenger seat of the Marina as it hurtled up Castle Road, which ran parallel to my street. There was a lot of crashing and scraping and screeching. We were swaying around everywhere. The car came to rest with a lurch. Johnny turned to me with his big face, his eyes were almost translucent. He looked quite pleased with himself.

‘Boof!’ he said, with a smile. ‘Where are my glasses?’

I picked them up off the back seat where they’d landed, having flown off his face with the force of the impact, and reinstated them. Together we surveyed the scene.

Castle Road was a street of terraced houses with the front doors opening straight off the pavement. It was lined on both sides with parked cars, and behind us, although I didn’t yet know this, most of these cars were seriously damaged. We’d done a good job. Lights were going on, front doors were opening. The first residents were beginning to appear on the scene.

Castle Road holds a special place in Chatham folklore. A few weeks previously the police had been called to an incident involving feuding families who had taken to fighting in the street with ornamental swords plucked from above the mantelpiece of a local pub. These were the kind of people that were coming out of the adjacent houses.

It was like The Night Of The Living Dead. In the dim light of the street lamps they were coming towards us in their pyjamas. A moaning and groaning sound filled the air and, even though my vision was impaired by excessive alcohol intake, I could see that one of them was eating somebody’s liver.

They didn’t look at all pleased. I didn’t know how we were going to talk our way out of this one. Insurance details would have to be exchanged. I didn’t really want to get out of the car, it was warm and comfortable. Johnny thought differently. He said, ‘Fuck this, let’s get out of here,’ and dragged me by the collar of my coat across the car and out of the driver’s door.

‘Fucking run!’ he shouted.

As luck would have it, the final throes of the collision had happened next to a wide alleyway with steps leading up to my street. Johnny grabbed me and we ran, fell and stumbled up the steps over broken glass, weeds, and litter. If we could just make it to the top we were four houses from my front door and sanctuary.

There were flashing blue lights everywhere. Uniformed policemen in front of me like rugby players. One of them said, ‘Right you!’ I took a swing at him. Luckily I missed. I was smacked face down on the bonnet of our neighbour Alan’s Ford Granada. Then I was in a van, accompanied by a policeman who warned me that there was only him and me in the back. As we pulled away I saw Johnny blowing up a balloon so I gave him a regal wave.

Inside the police station there appeared to be a reception committee – large, uniformed officers in their shirtsleeves, baying for blood. I was getting very nervous. I knew what was coming – I’d been arrested once before, in Hull, for being drunk and disorderly. I gave them a bit of lip and they gave me the treatment. This time was sure to be worse – I’d tried to hit a policeman. They were going to have some fun with me.

They catalogued my belongings and took the belt out of my trousers. And then, even though I didn’t resist, it took a lot of policemen to get me down to the cells. There were so many of them that there wasn’t enough room for us all in the corridor and we kept falling over one another. They kept up some kind of rugby or beer drinking chant, punching and kicking me in time with it. At the cell door they picked me up bodily, and with a great roar, threw me inside. I landed face down on a brown stone floor. There was a smell of disinfectant. This was it, I was going to die in police custody. I covered my head and waited for the inevitable.

It never came. I was aware of some commotion – running feet and a voice: ‘Lads! Lads!…’ The serge trousers and Doc Martens that surrounded me melted away and a different, almost kindly voice said, ‘Yes, well, you just get a bit of sleep and then we’ll take a statement and you can probably go home.’ I couldn’t believe it. I sat on the bench and stared at the wall for a very long time.

It turned out that Johnny had arrived just as I was being taken to the cells. Seeing what was going on he thought it was a good time to inform them that his father was a local magistrate and headmaster. It blew a hole in his credibility but he probably saved my life. The Chatham police had a reputation for this sort of thing – Chatham was apparently a training ground for the Met.

I was charged with being drunk and disorderly and let out at seven o’clock in the morning. When I got home Johnny was already crashed out on the floor. He’d been charged with drunken driving, failing to report an accident, leaving the scene of an accident, and possession of a small amount of heroin. The Morris Marina was a write-off. I had to find out which scrapyard it had been sent to and retrieve my bits and pieces from it.

A Dysfunctional Success: The Wreckless Eric Manual by Eric Goulden is published by Ventil Verlag. Wreckless Eric will be appearing live at Engine Room, North Shields, on 1 June; Rock n Roll Brewhouse, Birmingham, on 6 June; Just Dropped In, Coventry, on the 9th June; Walthamstow Rock n Roll Book Club, London, on 20 June

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today